Filed Under (Politics, Rants) by Sean on February-9-2009

I felt it important to write this quick post about what I believe it really means to be Liberal. I always find it amusing that the people who use the label pejoratively seem to be somehow divinely knowledgeable about its definition. They like to use definitions that frame it as an ideology that is counter to their own. They use it to be divisive. I’m here to say they’re dead wrong.

Let’s start with the dictionary definition:

lib·er·al (lÄ­b’É™r-É™l, lÄ­b’rÉ™l)  adj.

    1. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
    2. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
    3. Of, relating to, or characteristic of liberalism.
    4. Liberal Of, designating, or characteristic of a political party founded on or associated with principles of social and political liberalism, especially in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.
    5. Tending to give freely; generous: a liberal benefactor.
    6. Generous in amount; ample: a liberal serving of potatoes.
    7. Archaic Permissible or appropriate for a person of free birth; befitting a lady or gentleman.
    8. Obsolete Morally unrestrained; licentious.
    1. Tending to give freely; generous: a liberal benefactor.
    2. Generous in amount; ample: a liberal serving of potatoes.
    3. Archaic Permissible or appropriate for a person of free birth; befitting a lady or gentleman.
    4. Obsolete Morally unrestrained; licentious.
  1. Not strict or literal; loose or approximate: a liberal translation.
  2. Of, relating to, or based on the traditional arts and sciences of a college or university curriculum: a liberal education.
    1. Archaic Permissible or appropriate for a person of free birth; befitting a lady or gentleman.
    2. Obsolete Morally unrestrained; licentious.
  1. A person with liberal ideas or opinions.
  2. Liberal A member of a Liberal political party.

[Middle English, generous, from Old French, from Latin līberālis, from līber, free; see leudh- in Indo-European roots.]
lib’er·al·ly adv., lib’er·al·ness n.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Read it over. Carefully. Especially read the first definition. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.

Read it again. THAT is what being liberal is all about. It is ruthlessly independent. Not trying to apply the same policies and ideas to differing situations and different contexts. Different realities require different approaches.  This is the core of being liberal. Being liberal is not about “big government” or “welfare society” or anything like that. It is not about confusing correlation with causation. It is not about using rhetoric and divisive labels to plant prejudicial narratives in people’s minds. After all, there is nothing inherently bad about big government any more than there is something inherently bad about a large gun; though, to be honest, I still don’t know what the hell big government means any way. To me it’s kind of like saying, “Big football is bad. Big companies are bad.” Uh, sure. It’s intellectually dishonest and lazy. It’s pandering. How easy it is to paint such a broad stroke and completely discount the human element within. How easy it is to ignore the complexities of reality, of systems, of chaos, and simply say it’s all bad because it’s easier that way. Instead, what being liberal is about is doing what works given the situation. It’s about critically thinking about issues in context, applying analysis and some semblance of scientific method where appropriate, and crafting policy to put action behind the hypotheses derived from those activities.

Dogma is this: you have a square peg. There may be a square hole, in which case you’re in good shape. You may have a round hole, in which case you still try to fit the square peg through it. In case that doesn’t work, you take some C4 and blow a big enough hole so you can insert the square peg. This epitomizes GOP thinking. It’s all about laissez faire, no government, no regulation, the market is divine arbiter of all things good, blah blah blah all the time, no matter what is happening in the world around them. Being liberal is to say, “Hey, we like the Friedman school of economics so long as it applies to the macroeconomic realities surrounding it.” BUT, when you have zero percent interest rates and economic stagnation and a domino effect of economic collapse going on, you dust off the book from the Keynes school and start applying the lessons learned there. It’s balanced. It’s not about big vs. small government or any of that, so much as conservatives love to play those frames over and over and over again. It’s about doing what’s required given the situation. Finis.

Tuam libera mentem.

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Filed Under (Business, Politics, Technology) by Sean on September-11-2008

Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The World is Flat, appeared on David Letterman this past Monday to discuss his latest book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded. Friedman is known for being a huge proponent of free trade, outsourcing, capitalism, and globalization. While I may not agree exactly on his methodologies about all these from a practical point of view, I do think he stirs up some good thinking points. He has become a somewhat controversial advocate of the green movement in his advocacy surrounding what to do about climate change. In this case, however, I am in 100% agreement with his argument about stoking the American innovation machine in order to solve the problems facing us. Another book from author Fred Krupp, the president for the Environmental Defense Fund, entitled Earth: The Sequel, similarly discusses the role capitalism, coupled with government leadership as referee to ensure a level playing field (i.e., allow new technologies to come to market in a way to compete with the more than $6 Billion in taxpayer subsidies still received by Big Oil, not to mention addressing mothballed clean tech patents acquired by Big Oil to stifle competition), can play in stoking the new “energy technology” revolution the way it did with information technology (which, in its present form, was built largely on the back of a government project called ARPANET, which we now know as the Internet).

The full video of the interview on David Letterman is posted below for your viewing. I’ve taken the liberty to paste the main points from the interview verbatim, with emphasis added to especially important narratives. His points are the same points I would make in debating about what needs to be done with US energy policy, specifically as this country’s biggest mandate and wealth creation industry for the 21st century. It doesn’t matter if you believe in climate change or not (though if you don’t you possibly also believe the Earth is 4,000 years old, but I won’t get into that here). It is an economic and security imperative at this point that we take charge and lead the way or suffer the fate of becoming a second rate power.

Dave (concerning letting the nation know the seriousness of climate change): “We need people coming out here screaming . . . . we need somebody to knock people over and jump up and down on their chest.”

Thomas: “[Republican's] mantra is drill baby, drill . . . what I’ve been saying to them is  . . . we’re on the eve of [the energy technology] revolution . . . on the eve of that revolution, to be saying, ‘drill, baby, drill’ is like saying on the eve of the IT revolution, . . . ‘I want more carbon paper . . . more IBM typewriters’ . . . hello?”

Dave (in discussing the Government’s role): “Maybe I’m wrong, maybe we don’t need leadership in this country, in the white house, maybe we don’t need a national political mandate.”

Tom: “We do.”

Dave: “Until we look at this like a national problem . . . this country always wants to be a world leader, why aren’t we leading the world at this?”

Thomas: “And why do we need government? Why, you are right we need a leader, because . . . leaders write the rules, they shape the market . . . what we need is a price signal, ok, a price on carbon, a price on gasoline, that says to the American marketplace, which is the greatest innovation engine in the world, go out and invent the alternatives and you’ll get rich. So we get 100,000 people trying 100,000 things in 100,000 garages, 100 of which will be promising, ten will be great and two will become the next green Microsoft and green Google.”

Dave: “Will either of these guys [presidential candidates] do it?”

Thomas: “Certainly if you listen to them today, they aren’t preparing the public for that. Everyone’s ready to say, ‘I’m going to throw this amount of money at it’ . . . but it really isn’t, Dave, about throwing money at it. It’s triggering the innovative prowess of this country that gave us the IT revolution. That’s what we need for the ET revolution. Now if we don’t do it . . . this is the next great economic revolution, the next great industry . . . the country that leads that is going to have the higher standard of living, the most economic security, the most national security, which part of that sentence don’t people understand?

Dave: “And to a great affect will solve our current economic problems . . . . it’s not an overnight kind of a deal, it will contribute greatly to making things much better economically. Why can’t we get a guy smart enough . . . to say ‘by god, here’s how it’s going to be different, and I’m the guy that’s going to make it different, and I’m going to lead the world, and I’m going to save the planet’?”

Thomas: “What if you were . . . one of those members of congress who came out and said, ‘we need a carbon tax, we need gasoline tax, we need the right standards, we’ll offset it on people’s payroll’ and then your opponent says, ‘there’s my opponent . . . [who] never saw a tax he didn’t like’ . . . here’s what I would say, ‘let’s get one thing straight pal, we’re both for a tax, because we’re being taxed right now by Saudia Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, Russia; I just prefer that my taxes go to the US treasury to build US schools, US roads, US highways.  . . . It’s just a little tick I have  . . . that I like my taxes to go to my country.  . . . if you can’t win that debate, you don’t belong in politics.”

Dave: “Would that work as a stump speech . . . in a debate?”

Thomas: “I believe this issue is like civil rights and women’s suffrage . . . the public are ahead of the politicians. . . . [the public] will take a lot of pain on this if they think you have a real plan, and it’s equitable . . . and it’s a plan not just about energy, but about nation building in America. This is the key to propelling our country into the 21st century, not into the 19th century with drill, baby drill . . . if it’s a hoax . . . everything we would do to prepare ourselves for climate change would make us more respected, more innovative, more competitive, more entrepreneurial.”

Here is the video: